Live The Story - An Excerpt From Romans (The Story of God Bible Commentary Series)
Continuing after last week's excerpt from the Genesis commentary, this week we will read an excerpt from the Romans commentary on Romans 12:1-2. The Story of God Bible Commentary aims to set each passage within the context of Scripture as a whole. As it wrestles with the passage, the author leads the reader to (1) "Listen to the Story," (2) "Interpret the Story," and (3) "Live the Story."
Enjoy this week's reading from the Story of God Commentary on Romans, as Michael F. Bird encourages us to "live God's Story" by sacrificially living to serve others.
In its barest elements Romans 12:1 – 2 is about worship, worship with the body and worship with the mind — worship that is sacredly somatic and noetically sanctified. Paul urges us to dedicate our bodies to God and to conformour minds to the will of God. Worship of this order is fundamentally about offering ourselves to God and transforming ourselves into the image of the Son of God. This is what Charles Talbert calls “a liturgy of life.”
Bodies Fit for Sacrifice
The other day I learned a very disturbing fact. During the 1980s, the song that spent the most number of weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 American music charts was Australian singer Olivia Newton-John with her hit number “Physical,” which was number one for ten consecutive weeks. The chorus line is, “I wanna get physical . . . let me hear your body talk.” Do not watch the clip on YouTube unless you really like 1980s fitness fashion apparel.
But if you think about it, striving to “get physical” might be a catchy way of summarizing what Paul is talking about when he says to “offer your bodies as sacrifices” to God. Worship that is living, holy, and pleasing to God does not take place on some spiritual plane, but occurs through what we do with our physical bodies.
This completely rules out any kind of crass dualism between body and spirit that was prevalent in the Hellenistic world and as so often passes nowadays for spirituality. On the contrary, Paul says the “life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20), so as to make it absolutely clear that his embodied and fleshly existence is the locus where his faith is exercised.
Similarly, when some of the Corinthians were trying to use a body/spirit dualism in order to justify sexual immorality, Paul responds that one cannot treat the body with indifference, because “Do you not now that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor 6:19 – 20). What we do with our bodies shows what we value with our soul.
The logic of worship as Paul describes it is that it is entirely fitting for believers to train their bodies with the discipline needed to please God. Given that Western culture is highly consumer oriented and driven by the constant need for instant gratification, I seriously wonder if ingraining a bit of asceticism into our lives might not be a bad idea. Yes, I know that asceticism can be harsh and legalistic (see Col 2:23), but there is good evidence that the spiritual practices of Jesus included elements of self-denial and self-discipline that can properly be called asceticism. I’m not saying that everyone should take a vow of silence, embark on a two-week fast, and even married folks should go on a celibacy binge. One of the things we can simply do is to trim our lives of excesses, whether that is in food, drink, entertainment, or anything that is self-indulgent. We should live in such a way as to make clear that our bodies belong to God and not to Starbucks, Netflix, Forever21, or Apple.
The other thing we can do is to live sacrificially for others. Sacrifice presupposes the idea of one life given for another. Applied metaphorically sacrifice means bearing the cost of other people’s burdens (Gal 6:2). It entails showing generosity at your own expense (Heb 13:16). Sacrifice is acting selflessly when you see the needs of others (Jas 2:15 – 16). Such a perspective will manifest itself in the various attitudes and behaviors that Paul goes on to speak about at length in Romans 12:9 – 21. A person who makes their body a living sacrifice is one who tries to share the pain of another person’s loss, grief, rejection, and need as if it were their own.
In sum, if our worship is to “get physical,” then we must consciously treat our bodies as a vessel of holiness rather than as temples of self-indulgence. In addition, sacrifice is always for others, expressing itself in doing good itself even at our own personal expense. To this end Chrysostom asked, “How should the body be a sacrifice?” to which he answered:
Prevent your eye from looking at something evil; it has become a
sacrifice. Do not let the tongue say something shameful; it has become
an offering. Do not let the hand perform a lawless action; it has become
a whole burnt offering. Yet these things are not enough; we must also
perform good works: let the hands give alms, let the mouth bless those
who abuse, let the hearing devote itself continuously to listening to divine
speech. For sacrifice has nothing impure about it; sacrifice is the firstfruits
of all other actions. Let us then make a sacrifice to God of the firstfruits of
our hands, feet, mouth, and all the other members of our body.
From Conformity to Transformity
In addition to “getting physical” with our worship, we also have to pursue worship that is noetically renewed by the Spirit and cognitively attuned to God’s will. To put it simply, we have to get our minds aligned with God’s purposes and plans. To pursue such a pattern entails refusing to conform to the intellectual fashions of our day and pursuing transformation through the renewal of our minds. (Pgs 416-418)
To continue reading, pre-order the Romans commentary from Zondervan Academic.
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